A Story of Many Snorris
The Long Afterlife of Snorri Sturluson in the Cultural Memory of Scandinavia
Fimmtudaginn 13. september 2018 kl. 16.30
Few Icelanders have been the subject of so much praise and slander as the medieval writer, poet and chieftain Snorri Sturluson in the nearly eight centuries since his death. Already the medieval sources present the reader with an ambiguous image of a man, who was simultaneously a brilliant scholar and a great political strategist, but also a betrayer of his people and a puppet of the Norwegian king. In this presentation, I will chart the posthumous reception, or the afterlife of a man who was, as Tim Machan stated in a recent publication, so important, that he “would have to have been invented if he had not lived”. Especially his History of the Norwegian Kings (Heimskringla) and the Prose Edda attributed to him have determined the image of ancient Scandinavia well beyond his native Iceland. Yet, Snorri’s rise to prominence is by no means self-evident, and did not begin until several centuries after his death. What is easily forgotten, is that Snorri was not always considered the ‘greatest of all Scandinavian geniuses’, nor was his legacy (both literary and political) always received in a positive light. It is my intention to demonstrate how processes of secular canonisation, and nationally inspired veneration which developed around his persona and his (presumed) oeuvre in the course of the long nineteenth century (entailing the establishment of a corpus and the organisation of commemorations, among other things) could transform the memory of a long-dead medieval poet like Snorri into an instrument for articulating cultural identities in modernity. In order to do so, I will examine the profoundly ambivalent and divergent images of Snorri Sturluson in Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and in the context of more universal discourses, while focussing on an intricate ‘traitor-hero complex’ that many of these narratives appear to revolve around. How does Snorri’s role in the cultural memory of the Scandinavians differ from country to country? And how can this divergence of modern receptions be explained in the context of national identity formation?
Simon Halink is a cultural historian specialized in the study of nationalism, currently conducting his postdoctoral research at the University of Iceland. In 2017, he took his Ph.D. at the University of Groningen, where he studied the cultivation of Old Norse mythology in modern Icelandic nationalism.
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